Walt Richards plays a guitar solo atop fellow band member Buford T. Ogletree’s bass during a show. (Special Photo)
Walt Richards, founder and leader of Hot Rod Walt and the Psycho-DeVilles, admits he comes by his passion for rockabilly music honestly.
“I can blame it on my parents, who had given me all their 45s when I was a kid,” said Richards, who, with his band, will perform at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 8, on the downtown Square in Covington, as part of a Summer Concert Series presented by the Arts Association in Newton County and Main Street Covington.
The New Jersey native, who has lived in Atlanta since 2006, adds that he was also captivated by rockabilly’s second wave of bands like the Stray Cats and that band’s acceptance by a fledgling television network called MTV. He’s tried other styles of music, but has found a happy home within rockabilly’s reverb-drenched walls, recording seven albums with his band.
“I went to some car shows in my late teens and I saw some bands in Jersey that were playing rockabilly and I thought there was something (interesting) about this, that it looks really hard to do,” Richards said.
“I spent many years playing different kinds of music and putting out albums, playing alternative-style music. I’d be on stage playing like a Stone Temple Pilots-style of alternative rock, but I looked like a rockabilly guy. I’d be playing a hollow-body guitar with my hair pomped, wearing rockabilly clothes and then I finally decided to do it.”
For the last six years, Richards and his colleagues (combustible bassist Buford T. Ogletree and “punk rock” drummer Steve “Burnout” Burnette) have spread the Gospel of rockabilly on these shores and in Europe, playing fast-paced tunes about “hot-rod cars, Gretsch guitars and mean women.”
“My songs aren’t fabricated,” said Richards, who has written an estimated 200 tunes. “I wrote a song about a ’34 Ford and I have a ’34 Ford. If I sing a song about getting pulled over, it’s because I got pulled over. This stuff is real.”
In addition to the style of music he favors, Richards takes seriously his tools of the trade, exclusively playing Gretsch guitars, for which he has an endorsement deal. Richards also spent a major part of his summer last year putting enhancements to a warehouse full of the beloved and iconic brand of six-strings.
“I’m a pinstripe guy…(A) Gretsch rep guy had me do 342 official Hot Rod Walt Gretsch guitars in California. So I was in California pretty much all summer last year, striping guitars,” he said. “They’re all over the internet and eBay — you can find them almost anywhere.
“I’ve got a lot of (Gretsch) guitars, how many, I don’t know. I probably have 10 or 12. That’s all I play. I own other guitars, but I think it would be disrespectful to play something different on stage when I’m being endorsed by a certain company. I love them — nothing else sounds like (a Gretsch). It goes above and beyond, really, the brand. It’s the sound — nothing else will do that. I’ve tried other instruments but nothing else does that and nothing else looks as cool either.”
In his spare time, Richards also works on classic motorcycles and cars (including his ’34 Ford) and has appeared on the television shows “Café Racer” and “Auction Kings,” displaying his abilities. But Richards has happily discovered that his music keeps him so busy, he only spiffs up cars now when he wants to.
“I also build hot rods, but people don’t really spend money on toys anymore — they’ve tightened up a bit on that,” he said. “Fortunately, the music business took off for me and I’m able to make a living doing that, and it gives me time to work on my own cars. I hardly ever work on a car for somebody else anymore — I just work on my own stuff.”
Although the band is making its east metro debut, Hot Rod Walt and the Psycho-DeVilles are familiar faces in the Atlanta area and have a regular date at the Dixie Tavern in Marietta. And when they’re not playing stateside, the Psycho-DeVilles have thrilled audiences overseas with their kinetic and frenetic mayhem.
“We play about 100 shows a year,” Richards said. “It takes us all over. Last year, we played in France, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Holland (and) Luxembourg. We do that almost every year and then tour the United States as well and fill in with local-ish shows. Whatever it takes to make a buck.”
Richards says he finds European audiences a bit more attentive than their American counterparts.
“The thing is, Europeans tend to appreciate live music and Americana more that Americans,” he said. “When we play there …You won’t find people with their backs to the stage looking at their cellphones. People give you 100 percent of their attention and they hang on your every word, whether they speak your language or not.
“We played at Disneyland in Paris for a couple thousand people and most French people don’t speak English, and if I let that affect me I won’t do my normal bits. So I make believe they speak English and they hollered and screamed and hung on every word and responded when I asked them to respond as if they spoke perfect English.”
Folks who turn up for the DeVilles’ Covington concert can expect to see a trio performing just like a classic hot rod — fast, sleek, shiny and exciting.
“People will notice we have one of the coolest stage set-ups they’ve ever seen,” Richards said. “We’ve got the coolest instruments and stuff. They’ll see three guys who don’t look like anybody else — fancy suits and fancy clothes. We’re surprisingly loud, but our music if full of dynamics.
“It appeals to people from 8 to 80. The kids dance, the older folks dance. People from all walks of life are having fun at our shows. It’s super-ridiculous high energy with vocals you can understand. It’s fast-paced with good showmanship.”
For more information on Hot Rod Walt and the Psycho-DeVilles, visit www.psychodevilles.com.
Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org